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Tools of the Trade: Essential Equipment and Software for the Virtual Assistant 
by Tracy Gregory 


The term virtual assistant is a broad one that is used to describe any type of home-based employment. Some of the most common types of virtual assistants are administrative assistants, transcriptionists (medical, legal, or general business), customer service representatives, and appointment setters/schedulers. Each position utilizes various types of equipment and software to handle specific job requirements. It is the virtual assistant's responsibility to ensure that his or her home office is equipped with the essential equipment and software needed to perform employment duties efficiently.


Like all virtual assistants, a home-based administrative assistant needs a quiet office environment and a reliable computer with a high-speed Internet connection such as broadband or DSL. Antivirus, firewall, and spyware software are important to protect documents and email. Norton Utilities provide a comprehensive package that can be renewed annually for a fee. However, Microsoft Essentials offers similar protection at no cost. Other software necessities include Microsoft Office (2003 or later) - which includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint - as well communications software such as Skype, Yahoo, AOL, or ICQ (all of which can be downloaded free from their respective websites) and experience with various types of email programs and calendars (i.e., Google Mail and Microsoft Outlook). In terms of hardware, at least one telephone landline is needed as are a printer, scanner/copier, and fax machine.


Transcription is the most rapidly growing virtual assistant field, and although some employers may provide equipment and software, in many instances they are the responsibility of the employee. Again, a high-speed Internet connection is essential. A headset that fits the ear comfortably muffles background noises. A USB .wav stop/start foot pedal allows a transcriptionist to play, stop, rewind, and fast forward the dictation and must be compatible with transcription software. ExpressScribe is the most popular transcription software and is available online in either a paid version or free download. Reference texts such as Black's Law Dictionary for legal transcription and Stedman's Medical Dictionary and a current drug list for medical transcription are also highly recommended.  

For customer support types of positions like customer service representative and appointment setter/scheduler requires a fast computer, high-speed Internet connection, and land lines with no call waiting. They both also require a quiet working environment free of outside distractions. Customer service representatives also need wireless headsets to use with VoIP devices such as Skype and RingCentral. Software requirements include Microsoft Word and Excel. For appointment setting or scheduling, experience with online meeting software (such as WebEX, GoToMeeting or Microsoft Live Meeting) is usually a prerequisite. These virtual positions also typically require familiarity with ACT Database customer management software.


The reputation of a virtual assistant is not built with bricks and mortar; it is constructed with knowledge, experience, and the appropriate equipment/software to handle a particular specialty area efficiently. Acquiring the proper 'tools of the trade' is an important investment of time and money that will produce the career dividends necessary to achieve long-term success.

About the author:

Tracy Gregory has worked as a home-based writer and researcher since 1997.  She still lives in her hometown of York, Pennsylvania, the first unofficial capital of the United States under the Articles of Confederation. She enjoys reading, writing, music, classic films, and networking with friends and other virtual assistants.

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